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Four Suits Filed Over Airborne Water Toy

November 20, 2006

By Jason Kuiper, Omaha World-Herald, Neb.

Nov. 20–Clint and Laurie Wilen set out early July 4 for Hanson Lake south of Bellevue, where Laurie Wilen’s parents have lived for 17 years.

The Bellevue couple were on the lake and in the boat by 10 a.m. Clint Wilen had bought a new water toy, a Wego Kite Tube, that he had used only once before. The 10-foot-wide inflatable circular watercraft is designed to be towed behind a power boat and lift a rider into the air.

About a half-hour after they’d been in the water, Clint Wilen was airborne behind a boat going about 30 mph when the Kite Tube nose-dived into the water.

Clint Wilen struck the water, suffering a broken thigh, punctured lungs and other injuries.

A lawsuit filed by the Wilens is one of four filed against Sportsstuff Inc., the Omaha-based company that made the water sport device.

The toy allegedly caused at least two deaths this summer and injured 39 other people.

Omaha attorney Ronald J. Palagi, who is handling the lawsuits, shared the Wilens’ story. The Wilens declined to comment.

The lawsuits, filed last month in Douglas County District Court, name Sportsstuff and a Florida-based marketing company, World Publications Inc., as defendants. Palagi said he expects to file more lawsuits by the end of December.

Michael Beckelman, an attorney for Sportsstuff, declined to comment on the lawsuits. A press release on the company Web site said the company hasn’t been able to determine the cause of the incidents but does not believe the products are defective or unreasonably dangerous.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission announced in July that Sportsstuff voluntarily recalled about 19,000 Kite Tubes after reports were made of serious injuries and possible fatalities related to people using the tubes. The commission reported that 29 of the 39 injuries required medical treatment.

The Wilens’ lawsuit claims Clint Wilen’s injuries are permanent. He underwent emergency surgery but will probably have to have additional surgery. According to the suit, he has been unable to manage the landscaping and lawn care business he owns.

Another lawsuit was filed on behalf of a Canadian man who died while riding one of the toys July 4 on an Ontario lake. The other suits were filed by a Michigan man and a couple from Alberta, Canada.

The suits, which ask for unspecified damages, claim Sportsstuff and World Publications didn’t give adequate warning that the Kite Tube would become unstable when airborne, leaving the rider with little or no control over the craft.

Also, the suit says, the companies knew that the tube was extremely dangerous yet advertised it as fit for amateurs and gave the false impression that little risk was involved.

Beckelman said Sportsstuff, 11213 E Circle, started about 19 years ago and makes various products and towables for boats, as well as some winter products.

In April, the Kite Tube was named the sports product of the year by the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association.

The toys were sold from Oct. 1, 2005, to July and cost between $500 and $600.

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Copyright (c) 2006, Omaha World-Herald, Neb.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.

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